FOOD TRENDS AND PREDICTIONS: 2017

Here are the top ten predictions for 2017 in the World of Food.  Chiefly, it will become more contextual–You’ll hear less talk of how things taste and who’s cooking what.  You’ll hear more talk of the money and thinking that go into food.

1. MORE CHEAP FOOD.  As restaurants in major U.S. cities face rising rents from landlords and equity funds which own them, both eager to raise more money to invest in a blistering hot stock market, chefs will open places that serve inexpensive food.  The trend has already started in Cambridge, Massachusetts with new bakeries; and, in NYC, top chefs like Daniel Humm are opening restaurants where most items are under $20.  Expect to see lots more pizza, noodles, and bagels.

2.  MORE MONEY WILL GO INTO MARKETING AND PUBLIC RELATIONS. Word of mouth is fine, but to survive in the restaurant world today, you need a massive marketing team.  Union Hospitality Group, for example, the company that manages “Shake Shack” for the Leonard Green Equity Fund, which is the majority stockholder in that fast food, burger franchise, has dozens of ex-English majors shilling for them.  A restaurant that hopes to capture market share is going to need to invest heavily in public relations, which costs thousands per month.  A big part of the profit from the cheap food (see Trend #1), will go into this.

3.  FREE FOOD.  Marketing is going to ID the food bloggers with the most traffic and invite them in for free food.  The bloggers will, in turn, write glowingly about the food.  “The food always tastes better when it’s free,” said a well-known restaurateur.

4.  BYE-BYE RED MEAT.  The best restaurants will stop pushing pork and beef.  It’s not difficult to cook high fat foods, it’s bad for your heart and the environment, and it shows the paucity of a chef’s imagination.

5.  MORE VEGETABLES.  The best chefs and those with the deepest pockets eat lots of vegetables.  These require skill to cook.  You feel better with a diet that’s got lots of vegetables.

6.  DECLINE IN COOKBOOK SALES.  With the Internet, who needs another cookbook to clutter the kitchen?  Look up the recipe for anything you want to cook.  It’s there online.

7.  PROFIT AND FOOD: THE CONNECTION.  More people will start to see the connection between what they buy to eat and how the world is shaped.  If you’re against banks and private equity diminishing democracy, find out who owns which restaurants, and stop patronizing them.  It’s not just the major names: You might be surprised to see who makes up the major investors in restaurants.

8.  FRANCHISES.  The days of the one chef-one restaurant are over in the United States.  It was fun, you can still find these places in other countries.  But to survive here, a chef needs to be a businessperson or in business with someone who knows about business.  The few remaining single chef-single restaurants left will either be gone by 2020 or they will be made part of a larger business.  In Philadelphia, Vetri is now owned by Urban Outfitters.  In Boston, Tatte Bakery is owned by Panera.  You’ll see lots more of this happening.  The chef who doesn’t sell or expand the business?  Gone.

9. VIOLENCE.  I’m sorry to say, but 2017 will see an increase in violent acts in restaurants.  You’ll see increased security in places, private and hidden clubs replacing public dining, and a decline in sales.

10.  STORYTELLING.  Restaurants will increasingly see the value of telling a story about themselves.  Customers don’t just want to eat food, they want to experience being part of what amounts to a cultural experience.

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Christmas, 2016, The Countdown Begins

The best thing about Christmas, 2016 is how close it comes to the end of the year itself.  Has there ever been such a fun year?  One terrific surprise after another.  And 2017?  Why, it’s sure to be even better!  Maybe even the best yet!

Where will you be when the deportations start and the missiles launch?

Why not in the kitchen making soup?  Or frying fish?  Learn how to grill Italian vegetables!  Make good use of Indian spices!  Hey, learn how to make sushi rice at home!

It’s fun, fun, fun!

This Christmas Eve, it’s fish, of course, and on The Big Day itself: Roasted leg of Icelandic lamb.  CRISIS: Lentils or white beans?

Say what you like about the world-at-large, but isn’t food the best?

Food, Not Food

Doughnuts, not food.  Burgers, not food.  Offal, sometimes food, but mostly not food except if used sparingly and on special occasions.  Eggs, food, but not if described as, “farm fresh,” or, “local.”  Anything you have never, ever seen on a menu, nor anyone you’re seated with that night has seen or heard of, not food.

Among the many great things about certain cuisines–Italian, let’s say–is the heartfelt-redness of the food.  Meaning fresh, substantial, vegetable driven, and small portioned, with deep flavors and seasonality.  It’s deceptively hard to cook this kind of food because you have to know what makes a great ingredient, and know, too, when to leave it alone and allow it to express its essence.

Certain Japanese dishes are like that: Udon noodles in a simple dashi.  A good miso soup.  Yakitori: Ever have stick after stick of grilled chicken?

The marvelous thing about food this good is that you don’t have to think about it: It’s so delicious that you enjoy the experience, and have space enough to connect to the people you are with and the thoughts and feelings within.

 

EATALY, BOSTON

The store opened at the end of November, finally, and yesterday was the first time I managed to get in as I was away from Boston until Tuesday night.

If you live in the neighborhoods near the Prudential Center, where EATALY is located, you can walk right in, past the many franchise stores in this shopping mall.  I drove in, found parking one street over, on Newbury, which is encouraging for future visits, as I intend to shop here weekly.  The subway is a block away, too.

EATALY was jammed from the entrance all the way to the back of the store, and its enormity was sufficient for crowds.  As is true in the NYC store, most shoppers were buying prepared foods or sit-down lunches, and I’m happy for them, not knocking it, but I was there to buy food to cook at home.

Good thing that the shoppers were content to have the store cook for them since this meant that there were no lines, none, zero, at the fresh food counters.

The products looked as good and were priced as fairly as what’s in the epic NYC store.

Picked up a terrific rustic walnut bread.  Fresh sea bass and fluke.  Ground veal.  Fresh ricotta.  Cured meat from Batali’s father’s store in Seattle, Washington.  Gorgeous, fresh stuffed pastas, from agnolotti to ravioli.  Trevisano radicchio.  Enough ingredients, no kidding, to cook six dinners for three people, and all for $91.

Vinny, the guy at the fish counter: “You need anything, call me, ask to speak to Vinny.  Special orders, I’ll take care of you.”

EATALY is truly a first-rate food hall, easily the best food source to open in Boston since I’ve been here.  Thank goodness, it’s no longer necessary to shop at Russo’s, Savenor’s, Formaggio, Boston Public Market, or Whole Foods.  Good riddance.

Combine EATALY with Arax and Tropical Foods for fruits and vegetables, and you’re all set.

EATALY is priced fairly, with great value, and has informed, enthusiastic staff who engage with customers.  Because Batali buys in great volume, he gets the best ingredients and remarkable prices.  He doesn’t gouge.

It’s the old-fashioned, tried and true retail model: Build relationships with your customers so they come back again and again; don’t try to get all their money all at once.  I helped write the Da Silvano Cookbook: Silvano and Mario have both taught me a lot.

It’s an Italian store, through and through, and a pleasure to have it so close by.

Last Night in Tokyo Until Spring

The place last night was fascinating.
Omakase yakitori, in a seedy Shibuya alley, no sign, locked door they buzz you in, eight seats.  I went with my friend L.
To my right was a gangster type with a babe who, I was told later, was well compensated.  To my left, were two apparently famous Japanese actors who are in, “Kinky Boots.”  They both looked as if they were nine years old.
The food was guinea fowl, and most of it was stuff you’d find in ovaries, barely cooked, as well as some more familiar things like wings and breasts.  Delicious stuff, and reminded me a bit of the food version of Gen Yamamoto, who is one of Tokyo’s extraordinary bartenders.
Deep flavors, unforgettable narratives, a little this, and a little that.
Back to Battleship America this evening, looking forward to returning to Japan by end of April.  I hope.

Back in Tokyo

It hasn’t even been 48 hours since I’ve been back, and already I feel at home.  This is my 23rd visit to the city, and finally I know my way around…a little.  The subways, anyway, that once proved a challenge, are clear, and I know which stops are which.  My PASMO card, like a Metro card, is ready to go.

Staying at Park Hyatt, a favorite urban hotel, in Shinjuku, with views of Fuji-san from my bedroom window on the 49th floor.  I have worked with this hotel for many years and it is comfortable to be here.  The treadmill on the 45th floor today with Fuji-san in view and a mix of Japanese hip-hop I bought…well, helped make up for the three mile grind.

The exercise is a good idea.

OK, lots of walking, too, but lots of eating.

A simple, hidden izakaya in Shinjuku Saturday night.  Unagi in Ginza on Sunday.  Lots of fresh fish with a friend last night.  Yakitori tonight.

It is good to be here again and again.

West to East

A quiet morning at Sankara after a lovely dinner last night informed by French and modern techniques using Japanese ingredients, from flying fish to local lobster to beef and potatoes from Kagoshima.

One dish was called, playfully, “Yakushima Fish and Chips,” and had thinly sliced potatoes almost like ravioli fried like tempura and in these pockets was flying fish confit.  I mean: Holy smokes!  Deceptively simple, so focused.

Wine paired with each course.

This morning it’s a brief flight to Kagoshima and a short layover and then a fight to Haneda.  A train to Shinjuku and a taxi to a favorite hotel.

Then dinner in a hidden yakitori joint in Shinjuku.

All before L heads to Cambodia for a week of work, and I have three days of a few meetings and seeing friends in Tokyo.

 

YAKUSHIMA: Au revoir…

It was our final full day in Yakushima so we drove up a long, steep road deep into the mountains and above the main port.  There we visited Shiratani Unsuikyo, an ancient cedar forest, walking on paths constructed in some instances over 300 years ago, and took in the powerful silence and extreme beauty.

This particular forest served as the backdrop for drawings used in the classic anime movie, “Princess Mononoke.”  Thick tree trunks reaching high up, moss covered stones and branches, a ravine, and suspension bridge.

Long ago, the cedar was harvested for shingles.  Now it remains impressive and a nod to the force of nature.

No wonder that Yakushima is a UNESCO designated island.

I am so sorry to leave here, after a week at Sankara.

I know I will be back soon.

 

Yakushima: Unspoilt

A visit to a tea farm nestled beside the Pacific Ocean and in view of a nearby island that serves as the base for the Japanese rocket program.

Then pajamas, cold Asahi, and local oranges.

A long afternoon reading, “Six Four,” a new Japanese detective novel, quite the sensation here.

Last night: Exquisite French dinner, ringside while watching chef, of small courses of local fish, vegetables, and beef.  So many vegetables, such good French wines.

This island is a hikers’ paradise.  Riddled with trails.  For now though it’s just quiet for us in the Balinese room we have at Sankara.

Yakushima: Untrammeled, Unparalleled

I’ve never been anyplace more beautiful: Ancient, verdant, volcanic mountains and cliffs above the sea.  Islands not-so-distant visible from the southern shores.

Today we circumnavigated the entire island, which took about three hours, maybe less.

Waterfalls, farm stands selling oranges, a long and one lane road through a canopied forest.

In the forest, numerous families of monkeys appeared and disappeared, their faces nearly ruby red.  Only a few feet from them stood deer.

On the northern tip, by the main port, we found a cafe playing Dave Brubeck on great speakers and had bowls of udon.

Later we ate the oranges.